Boutique Strat-Style Guitars: A Short Guide to 6 Key Builders

If you're a guitarist that's interested in adding a Strat-style guitar to your collection, today's market offers an embarrassment of riches spanning every conceivable style, configuration, and price range. Entry-level Squier Strats are being built at a higher quality than ever before, while the pages of Reverb are flush with quirky partscasters and Frankenstrats that can offer real value for savvy buyers on the prowl.

At the other end of the price spectrum from these respectable bargain buys, you'll find a vast range of higher-end, luthier-built instruments. Here too the options have never been more robust.

With the rising costs of truly professional-level guitars for legacy brands continuing to increase, anyone who's prepared to take the plunge into this echelon of instrument would do well to consider smaller, independent builders for more customization options and overall "bang for your buck." With Fender's high-end non-Custom Shop USA offerings now bordering on or hovering around $2,000 USD, it's understandable for an informed consumer to balk at paying that much money for a mass-produced, one-size-fits-all guitar.

In the spirit of quality, options, and getting exactly what you want, we here at Reverb wanted to highlight some of the best boutique Strat-style guitars currently on the market. There are, of course, tons of other options out there that we didn't get to—Nash, Kirn, and Whitfill are some obvious omissions—and we look forward to hearing about your favorites in the comments.

Brand/Model Known For Price On Reverb (in USD)
Suhr Modern/Standard/Classic Low-noise, precision built Strat-style guitars of all types. From $1,700
Shabat Lynx Handbuilt custom Strat-style guitars of the hightest quality. From $2,500
FSC Instruments ST-M Custom vintage-style models with modern performance features. From $2,680
Tom Anderson Fully custom, American-made boutique Strat-style guitars of all kinds. From $1,599
Danocaster Double Cut New Strats that look, feel and sound like old Strats. From $2,599
Waterslide Guitars Coodercaster Strat-style guitar for people who don't want a "boring Strat." From $2,199
Suhr

2017 Suhr Classic Pro

It's hard to talk about boutique Strats and not mention Suhr. For close to four decades now, few builders have been more dedicated to taking the famous Fender model to a higher level than John Suhr. Having spent years working at Rudy's Music during the '80s in New York City as the head repairman and luthier to the stars, John Suhr used his time there to research what truly made a Fender Stratocaster great… and what didn't.

After departing Rudy's to make amps in the late '80s, Suhr eventually joined Fender Custom Shop in the mid-'90s for a couple of years, only to start Suhr Guitars officially in 1997.

A strong advocate for a hybrid of automated routing/CNC and old-school production methods, Suhr was able to make spectacular nitro-finished Strat-style guitars with a high level of quality control. The tuning stability, the feel of the necks, and the finishes on these are consistently stellar—and Suhr offers a number of modern and vintage-styled Strat options.

In truth, Suhr's can be a little pricey new, but they aren't any worse than Fender American Original/Custom Shop prices, especially on the resale market. At times even, a used Suhr can smash new Fender prices. After 20 years in business, Suhr is still alive and well—and there may not be a better alternative on the market.

Shabat Guitars

Another Fender-style boutique company that has been making waves recently is Shabat Guitars, founded by Avi Shabat. If you remember our profile of boutique builders at Winter NAMM 2018, Shabat Guitars took the cake for best-in-class not just for Fender-style guitars but any type of electric.

2017 Shabat Lynx

In this case, we're focusing on their Lynx model, which is pound-for-pound, dollar-for-dollar one of the best Strat-style guitars you can buy. Like John Suhr—Avi Shabat's approach to building guitars has been informed by his years as a repairman (Shabat worked for his own company, Guitar Groomer), as much as it was by his time in lutherie school and his stint as a builder for LSL Guitars.

What's particularly impressive about Shabat is the level of quality and consistency Avi is able to achieve while utilizing hand-building methods from the '50 and '60s (along with some of his own improvements) as opposed to CNC machinery.

From the start of any build, Avi is very hands-on. He personally selects premium lightweight woods for his one-piece bodies and the most stable quartersawn maple he can find for his necks. Every build is fully customizable from the get-go with a wide-selection of classic nitrocellulose finishes, neck shapes, and boutique pickups supplied by Lollar.

While the price of Shabat's Lynx model has gone up since this past NAMM, they are still one of the best boutique Strat-style guitars on the market.

FSC Instruments

A newcomer on this list who is sure to make a splash in the boutique world is FSC Instruments, by New York City-based luthier and repairman, Farhad Soheili. Over the past decade, Farhad has become one of the leading luthiers in the NYC area, having first worked as an in-house luthier for a number of guitar shops before establishing his own popular independent repair service FS Lutherie in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

2018 FSC Instruments ST-M

Since 2016, Soheili has been building and selling custom nitro-finished Strat-, Tele-, and Jazzmaster-style guitars on a limited run. Now in 2018, FSC is fully launching with standard models—as well as customizable models. Like Suhr, luthier Farhad Soheili has used the vintage and boutique guitars that have come through his repair studio as the basis for his own instruments and has tried to create Fender-style guitars that are truly the best representation of modern/vintage.

With the aid of a CNC machine, FSC has been able to essentially copy and reverse-engineer neck shapes and vintage Fender body contours from the best pieces he's had in for repair. From a database of shapes they've compiled, FSC cuts the necks rough on CNC and finishes them by hand to a commendable level of accuracy to the original shape. Gibson-style neck shapes on a Strat anyone?

FSC also does their own '59-style handwound pickups, pickguards, and more in house, so the new standard ST-M is more boutique than most. The thing that perhaps stands out the most about FSC's models is their unique scooped/contoured heel like the Charvel Guthrie Govan signature model coupled with the use of a compound radius fingerboard.

In terms of function, it is one of the best contoured heel designs out there, and the satin-finished torrefied maple neck model I tried was a very comfortable player. Currently, FSC is charging $2,680 for an ST-M model to start, so the prices are still close to upper-range Fender USAs and used Fender Custom Shop Strats.

Tom Anderson

Like Suhr, the name Tom Anderson is a boutique builders who took the Stratocaster design to a new level. The irony of the first part of that statement is that without Tom Anderson, John Suhr would have possibly had less success with his first pre-Suhr custom guitars, as Tom Anderson was actually making the necks and bodies for him and Rudy's Music.

2015 Tom Anderson Classic S

From his early days as a custom builder at Schecter and as a parts builder out of his house, Tom Anderson was able to establish enough of a reputation to start his own guitar company in 1987.

Anderson's Strat-style models range from vintage to modern to modern/vintage to pure super Strats. If you are into Stratocasters, Tom Anderson has a model for you—no matter what you prefer—and you can be sure that they are of an unimpeachable quality. Anyone who has tried a Tom Anderson knows that they are exceptional players and screamers, and have been for years.

The in-house pickups in their guitars are quite special, and after hearing them it shouldn't surprise anyone to learn that Tom Anderson actually supported his company in its early years by making pickups for Schecter after they moved production overseas to Japan.

If you aren't looking to spend big bucks on a new custom model, there is a very favorable resale market that has developed after its 30-year existence. You really can't go wrong with a nice Tom Anderson.

Danocaster

Next up on the list is Dan Strain's Danocaster Double Cut model. While Tom Anderson focuses on making more modern interpretations of the Strat-design, Danocaster is pretty much the opposite.

2016 Danocaster Double Cut

Dan Strain focuses on making Fender-style guitars that look, feel, and sound like the "real ones" from the '50s/'60s era, and he does a great job. In a lot of ways, they are a similar company to Nash—however, to a Nash owner and lover—the relic work that Danocasters have are equally if not much more impressive.

As players and lookers, these guitars have had rave reviews and are quite beloved in the online guitar community. To achieve a more vintage look and feel, Danocaster has its own custom lacquer that it uses on its guitar necks and special relicing techniques for their bodies.

While the bodies and pickups are not made in house, the quality of the guitars and the work that goes into them alone put them in the boutique category. If that turns you off—so be it—but there's good reason as to why it takes the better part of a year due to backorder to get a Danocaster made.

As far as vintage-style Strat models, the Danocaster Double Cut is an excellent choice. And if you can't wait eight months for a custom Double Cut, sometimes you will see them pop up on the resale market between $2,000 to $2,800.

Waterslide Coodercaster

Last and certainly not least is the Coodercaster by Waterslide Guitars. Based on Ry Cooder's famous Frankenstrat, Waterslide knocked it out of the park with its replica of the Coodercaster. Frankly, it's remarkable and too cool that any company is actively making this model.

Waterslide Coodercaster

No one will ever mistake the Coodercaster for a traditional Stratocaster, but it will absolutely turn heads and perk up the ears of any guitarist. To put it simply—the Coodercaster is the Strat-style guitar for players who normally wouldn't play a Strat.

Waterslide is known for making great guitars already with impressively aged finishes, but these models knock it out of the park and have a style that is truly unique. These guitars come packed with Valco-style lap steel pickups by Mojo Pickups UK or Lollar (as an upgrade) in the bridge and a variety of '60s gold-foil style pickups in the neck. The sound of these guitars is truly one-of-a-kind and will put you in blues and country heaven.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this model is that, as an upgrade, Waterslide will install a B/G bender on it as well for only an additional $300. Priced at a low base price of $2,199, the Coodercaster might be the most interesting and competitively priced Strat-style guitar not just on this list but on the boutique market.

Other Fantastic Builders

LsL Instruments

Shabat came from LsL Instruments and that company is still making excellent boutique Strats. We knew that if we left this company off the list, we'd definitely hear about it in the comments. LsL have very affordable prices in comparison to the high quality of build—usually in the mid-$2,000 range on the resale market.

Rittenhouse

Very similar to Nash and Danocaster—Rittenhouse Guitars are just really nice vintage-style takes on that Strat model, with their specialty being relics. They even do Custom Shop-style recreations of famous guitars à la Fender CS. In case that is not your thing, you can always place your own custom order. Despite the fact that they play very well and sound superb, there's not a lot of hype around them at the moment, so the resale value is super low in comparison to the actual quality of the guitars.

2014 LsL Instruments "CV Special" Saticoy
2017 Rittenhouse S Model

About the Author: Casey Hopkins is a Brooklyn-based writer and songwriter/guitarist for The Advertisers. Aside from writing for Reverb and pursuing music, Casey is a recovering guitar salesman, assembler, and history major. Follow @CaseyHopkinsGuitar on Instagram to keep up with him.


comments powered by Disqus